Seeing my old papers from my college Shakespeare classes got me thinking about how the process of writing has changed immensely for me over the years. Here was my process in college (in the mid- to late 1980s): I took notes and wrote drafts longhand. Then I re-wrote a final draft… again in longhand. I then pulled my trusty mechanical typewriter (that I bought for about $10 at a yard sale) out of the closet and I typed out my final version on erasable bond paper. I could not stand typing on any other kind of paper. Expensive, but worth it when I was typing a long paper at 3 or 4 AM, running on coffee fumes and making plenty of typos along the way!
My senior year, I switched to typing out the final version at the computer lab on campus into some kind of early word processing program. I think it was WordStar maybe? I remember having to get the program floppy (actually bendable!) disks from someone at the computer lab and boot them up (is that the term?) on the old computers with the glowing green screens. The software was not on them! I had to do that each time, and then type in my final version and print it on the dot matrix printer.
The technology didn’t change my writing process. I still made notes and wrote drafts longhand and just drove over to the computer lab with my handwritten final draft ready to type up. I could now print out multiple copies instead of going to the library to photocopy a typed version (which I never did anyway). But honestly, I don’t remember ever taking the floppy disks back to the computer lab to print out multiple copies of my papers… so other than having that unused capability, there really was little difference to me.
Now that I think about it, I wasted time and burned some gas driving over to the computer lab instead of just pulling the old typewriter out of the closet. I must have felt there was some value added to using the computer, but it’s not evident to me as I think about it now. I may have made some last minute edits, but I don’t think that was a big part of my computing back then.
I continued with that (inefficient) process for a year or so into my first job after college. I still wrote everything out longhand. That’s how the thoughts came out of my brain onto paper… via my pen.
About a year into that job, I finally changed my writing process (I think I got a computer all to myself at my desk, so it was easier to make the switch) and I started writing notes and making drafts and edits directly into the word processing program (we used WordPerfect).
For me, it was a very big change in mental process that I remember being very aware of at the time. I was uneasy with the switch for a while… I felt like I’d lose my train of thought or have difficulty bringing coherence to my drafts if I lost copies of my previous drafts for reference (as they changed instantly on the computer). There was a real feeling of discomfort for me. A Change with a capital C.
Now, of course, I can’t imagine writing anything longhand. I can barely read my own writing and I get writers’ cramp from writing a couple thank you notes! There’s no way I could sit and write and re-write drafts of multi-page papers.
But beyond the mechanics, what interests me is the mental process that is so different for me. I now find writing directly onto a computer a natural and fluid process. I feel like I think more clearly with the words flowing directly brain to fingers. It’s much faster than longhand and I have more of a chance to get my thoughts out as they occur. I think.
That loss of control, the inability to reference drafts that disappear as they are edited… that bothered me for a while, but I hardly think about it anymore. I love writing on a computer and find it so simple to edit and change things around with no fuss. I feel that my writing must be much better than it would be if I were using longhand.
Does anyone know what I’m talking about? I feel like it’s a subtle idea that I may not be describing well, but it’s been an interesting thing to me over the years—this change in the thinking/writing process. I’d love to hear if others have experienced this.
On a happy note… my big box o’ books came today! I will be reading Shakespeare this weekend!
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